9: The Wickes

It wasn’t just the children who would return to the orphanage with regularity.

Mr. and Mrs. Wickes were two stern aristocrats who stopped by the orphanage at least five times every year. They were a cold pair, always dressed in fine black clothing with Mr. Wickes carrying a thick cane that looked like a wrought-iron horse-post, and Mrs. Wickes wielding a silvery lace fan that she could snap open and close like a whip. They always wore thick black coats and large hats. Mr. Wickes’s hat was always very tall, while Mrs. Wickes’s brim was always very wide. This contrasted their respectively thick and thin bodies, which gave them a curious symmetry. Leeta said they look like they were in perpetual mourning, so they had to have been very rich.

A sure as the seasons changed, several times a year a thin brown letter would be delivered to Mrs. Mapleberry, proclaiming a not-so-humble request to be ready for the Wickes’s arrival. Mrs. Mapleberry would immediately turn into a steam-engine of preparation, cleaning up the orphanage and washing children left and right, making sure that everyone was ready to be presented.

They would always arrive just after dinner–an unorthodox time to visit–and slowly walk through the orphanage, the loud crash of Mr. Wickes’ cane echoing through the hollow walls. Periodically, Mrs. Wickes would slowly bend down and stare a child full in the face, her mouth bending into something like a smile.

“And what’s your name?” She would ask, as though reciting a well learned lesson. The child would answer or, more often, mumble awkwardly as Mr. Wickes stared from behind his wife.

“Too short,” he would grumble. Or perhaps too tall, or too thin, or not quite thin enough. Mr. Wickes was never satisfied with the child his wife would select. Instantly, Mrs. Wickes’s smile would vanish, her back straighten, and then they would move on to the next child.

Inevitably they would find a child that they could agree on, and vanish into the city for several months. Then, one day, another letter would arrive announcing their intent, and the process would begin again.

None of the children they adopted ever returned to the Orphanage. Rumors circulated amongst the children that they ate the orphans they adopted, or at least forced them into slave labor.

They even looked at Edmund once.

“And what’s your name?” Mrs. Wickes face leaned closer.

“Edmund,” he said.

“You cannot be serious,” Mr. Wickes harrumphed behind his wife. “His head is far too large.”

“We could adjust it,” Mrs. Wickes smile twitched from the strain.

Mr. Wickes harrumphed again, and circled Edmund with a piercing eye.

“No,” he said finally. “Not worth the trouble.”

And with that, they moved on to the next child.

That day, they adopted Leeta. She didn’t come back either.

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